Lessons from Cannes

Lessons from Cannes

13 July 2023

For years I’ve seen the stream of colleagues and mentors heading over to France for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Despite 23 years in the industry I’d never been, and so my feelings always dipped into envy, not only for the glamorous shindigs (it always looked like A LOT of fun) but also the boisterous celebration of the top global creative work. Who doesn’t want their team’s highlighted and celebrated by the industry, clients and the odd celeb? And who doesn’t want to take home a bit of extra weight with both a coveted Cannes Lion and maybe just a few too many burrata?


This year I got my chance and it didn’t disappoint. We had the opportunity to showcase a project I am so proud of – The Bentley x The Surgeon collaboration which premiered last year. The project started in 2021 when our Iris crew met the team of The Surgeon (a.k.a Dominic Ciambrone), the world’s leading creative sneaker customizer. It was the right meeting at the right time… we had just been speaking with our clients at Bentley about ideas to further showcase the craftsmanship and possibilities of their 500 year+ Mulliner division (who originally custom-built carriages before motorcars).


What occurred next was the part of the magic of the business we’re in. A months long development ensued. The work was incredible – a partnership that enabled and celebrated the magic when creators meet and share their stories and talents together. After collaborating with the Bentley factory team in Crewe, Dominic created a line of limited-edition sneakers from Bentley materials and finishes including a unique pair that served as keys to a 1/1 Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid x The Surgeon, revealed at Art Basel (video of this is here, if you’re interested).


And so the dream was extended with an invitation to share our collaboration story at Cannes. The stage of all stages. I leaned on colleagues who had been in the past to understand as much as I could so I could take full advantage of this rarified opportunity. And now, I pass my knowledge to you.


Fair warning…As an extrovert who suffers FOMO, the week in Cannes was an exercise in managing chaos and prioritizing – it took all of Monday to learn how to “ride the Cannes wave.” I liken it a bit to the riptide – the best path is to just let yourself go with it (but keep an eye on the shore).


Tips for the newbie.

  • Content that gets invited back: This will be obvious, but first, you have to get the core ask right. If you’re preparing an official talk make sure it speaks to the CREATORS – that’s why we’re here. We were thrilled to have our clients & partners join for this panel. Include actionable advice to the audience. And be helpful on leadup, making sure your clients, team and the Cannes crew are set up for success. 


  • The official Festival + unofficial nearby opportunities are endless – but require some effort: It’s not only the official Festival, but the entire city becomes host to the global creative community. You simply won’t believe the amount of brand builds around Cannes. The beach is lined with temporary rooms to hotel takeovers to large scale beach activations. There’s a line of yachts with individual branding hosting several parties a day. And then there’s the countless apartments across the city that have been commandeered with banners of brands hanging off the side. And there’s the intimate dinners that are occurring all around you. Go in with a bit of a plan peppered with research – if you work with a major brand or follow specific media or are interested in new tech…they’re likely there. Reach out before hand and see if there’s a coveted list you can get on to save a bit of time and worst case a dreaded turn away at the door. Many event lists fill up weeks before hand, so do your research early. (But if you forget, shoot your shot anyway – you never know and could pull a #cannesmiracle)


  • Plan and abandon: Plan as much as you can, sign up for all the interesting parties you can, but then let that rip tide take you. Of course, don’t abandon a specific invite where you’re expected. That’s just gauche and you may have just cost someone a pretty high cost per head pending the activity. But keep some freedom in your schedule for the unexpected, and if you miss a panel you wanted due to a great conversation – you can always watch the video capture after.


  • Put yourself out there: Talk to everyone you can and mingle. I met CEOs, ad students, leaders in tech, and legends of Iris’ past all by opening myself up to new conversations. You never know who you’ll meet. It can be a gift to walk into a panel by yourself – spy someone interesting and introduce yourself. They may be happy to have someone to share Cannes tips with as well, and you just may meet a new friend, client, or colleague.


  • Yes, the shoes: It’s not to be ignored. Wear flats. Bring band-aids (or plasters as some call them) – even the deceivingly comfortable shoes may turn on you. Worst case, your shoes have failed you and you’re hobbling a bit. Many small shops in town sell flip-flops for just this occasion. You’ll receive no judgment from this crowd. And be barefoot-ready in case you board a yacht party; those shoes may not be allowed on board. 


  • Pace yourself: I know what you’re thinking. That too. But these are long days and sometimes short sessions – timing just doesn’t make sense to those who normally live and die by their schedule. Meals here can easily last 3+ hours. I saw many waiting an hour to see a 15 minute talk. And getting around by car is a bit of a crapshoot. So build in time to get where you need to be, if you need to be there. 


  • Start planning for next year: If you want your passport stamped, start thinking of the activations that will get you there now. I still have chills seeing the Glass Lion award winning work “Knock Knock” from our Cheil network partners. Think bravely; cut through the noise. Perhaps you can start scheming with all of the new potential partners you’ve just met.


Now I’m off to brainstorm our next project, with dreams of a summer 2024 showcase.


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